Just How Good Was Pete Maravich? Former NBA Stars Tell Their ‘Pistol Pete’ Stories
While Pete Maravich is the all-time leading scorer in NCAA Division I men’s basketball history, he carried those talents with him into the NBA. Maravich spent 10 years in the league, making All-NBA four times and earning a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction in 1987.
Maravich was much more than a scorer. He was also a playmaker. The man known as “Pistol Pete” was one of the most exciting players in all of basketball. He wowed many, including his opponents.
Pete Maravich did so much with very little
Pete Maravich racked up 3,667 points while attending LSU. That total has remained the NCAA Division I record for 53 years. More impressively, he reached that total in three seasons, as freshmen weren’t allowed to play at the varsity level. In those three seasons, the 6-foot-5 averaged 43.8, 44.2, and 44.5 points.
The Atlanta Hawks made him the third overall pick in the 1970 NBA Draft. He spent his first four seasons with the Hawks, averaging 24.3 and making a pair of All-Star teams.
When the New Orleans Jazz entered the NBA as an expansion team in 1974, they needed someone who had drawing power. They needed to fill the arena. What better player than Maravich, who was the idol of many in the area from his LSU days? The Jazz traded for Maravich, who spent the next five-plus seasons with the New Orleans/Utah Jazz.
Maravich was the star at LSU and with the Hawks and Jazz. In both college and the NBA, he didn’t have much on-court help. Although he helped turn around a weak LSU program, he never played in the NCAA tourney. In the NBA, he never made the playoffs with the Jazz. In Atlanta, he never won a playoff series. Maravich won a scoring title with the Jazz in the 1976-77 season (31.1 ppg) and averaged 24.2 points for his career.
In Maravich’s final NBA season, the Boston Celtics signed Maravich after the Utah Jazz waived him. Bothered by knee problems, Maravich’s role was to provide a spark off the bench for Boston in Larry Bird’s rookie season. This was the one time in his college or professional career that he had a legitimate chance at a championship.
Maravich played 26 games for the Celtics, averaging 11.5 points in 17 minutes. Boston won 61 games during that 1979-80 season. Maravich won his first playoff series as the Celtics swept the Houston Rockets (yes, they were in the East then). The Philadelphia 76ers then eliminated the Celtics in five games in the conference semis.
Here’s what the NBA stars said about Maravich
Maravich was known for his floppy socks, his floppy hair, and his flashy passes, along with his impressive scoring stats. Fans flocked to see him play. Many NBA stars also were intrigued by watching Pistol Pete.
“Man, you couldn’t steal it from Pistol Pete,” said Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson in a video compiled by BTM Basketball Time Machine. “He’d come down and then make up shots in the air. The no-look passes and the dribble the ball and pat it with one hand. That’s where I saw all that, from Pistol Pete. That’s where I got it from.”
“He handled the ball like a yo-yo,” said former Celtics guard Nate “Tiny” Archibald. “He could go this way with it, that way with it, or he could go this way, but the next thing you know, the yo-yo goes that way. The basketball was like on an invisible string on his hand.”
Even Bird was amazed by what Maravich could do with the basketball.
“The ball looked like part of his hand,” Bird said. “He must’ve spent a lot of time dribbling and dribbling.”
“It was like the game was boring for him, so he had to make things up to keep it interesting,” said Walt “Clyde” Frazier.